The Pistorius trial – a test in democratic governance


South African Paralympics star, Oscar Pistorius is fighting for his life in North Gauteng High Court. On 14 February 2013, Pistorius faced charges for having murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his home. The case has not lacked entertaining moments not in least due to his celebrity status combined with the massive media coverage the case has received. What is clear is who pulled the trigger that led to the death of Reeva Steenkamp. What to date remains unclear is under which circumstances the trigger was pulled. Whether or not Gauteng Court finds Oscar Pistorius guilty, the caserepresents an important test of the South African criminal justice system.  


We might want to recall the theories of the French political thinker Montesquieu dividing administrative power between the executive, the legislative and the judicial – each of which should form separate yet equal powers. With the enormous media attention the case has created; the pressure on all sides is enormous. Once being South Africa’s most famous Paralympics Star, double amputee and often referred to as the blade runner, Pistorius’ name now implies far more than just a trial. As most of the trial was (exceptionally) ordered televised by the judge South Africans have a unique opportunity to look into their own criminal justice system including its independence.

The South African court system has a reputation of being highly independent, efficient and professional. The same reputation is unfortunately not the case of the South African police, where corrupted versus non-corrupted practice reportedly vary. Critics show there is a lack of skills, motivation and discipline in the police force. Understandably, this can have impacted the prosecution’s case. Sloppy investigation can lead to the wrong outcomes where no one is served. In light of this, rule of law is at best questionable and without doubt – it undermines the credibility of the South African justice system. The enormous interest the case has caused and its public exposure adds to the picture. There are many cooks involved whose reputation and careers are at stake.

Critics accuse the South African court system of favoring the rich and resourceful. We understand that the Pistorius trial really is a test of what formally is an independent judiciary system. Whether or not Pistorius is guilty, he like anyone else deserves a fair trial. That also means a proper investigated case. Among the many competent forensic investigators in the South African police, there are unfortunately enough examples of poorly investigated cases that more than once have resulted in highly questionable court cases and proceedings. It is evident that police work ultimately will affect the efficiency also of the South African court system. Let us hope that we in this case can be proud and say, he got a fair trial.

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